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Five times our world has stood on the brink of Armageddon. It's been scorched, frozen, poison-gassed, smothered and pelted by asteroids. We are very lucky to be alive…
Over the past decade has come a revolution in our understanding of global apocalypses. Armed with new technology, scientists have dived into deep time to examine our planet's near-death experiences. The bad news is that they look eerily like our future. Take a wild ride through the crime scenes, from South Africa to the New York Palisades. Meet the obsessive, off-kilter personalities using cutting-edge forensic tools to piece together the weird and wonderful clues hiding in the fossil record – dragonflies the size of seagulls and fishes with guillotines for mouths. A rip-roaring chronicle and a cautionary tale, The Ends of the World reveals how these five near extinctions gave rise to our modern world – we've never seen so clearly what Armageddon looks like.
Peter Brannen is an award-winning science journalist whose work has appeared in the Guardian, Wired, New York Times, Washington Post and Slate, amongst other publications. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
"A book about one apocalypse – much less five – could have been a daunting read, were it not for the wit, lyricism, and clarity that Peter Brannen brings to every page. He is a storyteller at the height of his powers, and he has found a story worth telling."
– Ed Yong, author of I Contain Multitudes
"An exciting detective story venturing into the extraordinary worlds of our Earth's past to discover what caused them to end. Brannen describes unimaginable floods, planet-scale catastrophes and incredible creatures that were once common. A cautionary tale for the future of our human age."
– Gaia Vince, author of Adventures in the Anthropocene
"Urgent, compelling and beautifully written, Peter Brannen brings immense geological timescales sharply into focus, forcing us to reflect on humanity's brief but potent impact on the planet through the lens of deep time. Whether through fascination with the ancient past or grim fear for our future, The Ends of the Worlds is essential reading."
– Kat Arney, science writer and broadcaster
"If readers have time for only one book on the subject, this wonderfully written, well-balanced, and intricately researched (though not too dense) selection is the one to choose."
– Library Journal, starred review
"A vivid, fascinating story about all the past and future lives of our planet. Peter Brannen has the knack of opening up new worlds under our feet."
– Michael Pye, author of The Edge of the World
"History repeats itself, the first time as a tragedy, the second as farce. Human history, that is. But the history of life on planet Earth only ever repeats as tragedy, as Peter Brannen explains in this powerful and unsettling book. The Ends of the World recounts the breath-taking stories of the five mass extinctions that have punctuated and diverted the course of evolution. Its vertiginous sense of the awful fragility of living things will never leave you, not least because humanity may now be writing the ultimate end of Brannen's riveting tale."
– Stephen Curry, professor of structural biology, Imperial College
"Want to know the future? Look to the past, the deep past. That's one of the many insights you'll glean from reading Brannen's entertaining, engaging, elegant book."
– David Biello, author of The Unnatural World
"Much-needed as a cautionary lesson and a hopeful demonstration of how life on Earth keeps rebounding from destruction."
"A simultaneously enlightening and cautionary tale of the deep history of our planet and the possible future, when conscious life may become extinct [...] . Entertaining and informative on the geological record and the researchers who study it. [Brannen] provides a useful addition to the popular literature on climate change."
– Kirkus Reviews
"Robert Frost only gave us two options to end the world: fire or ice. Peter Brannen informs us in this fun rollick through deep history that there are so many more interesting ways to go."
– Paul Greenberg, author of Four Fish